The issues: From pot to PPRTA 

Every four years, the conundrum arises in general elections: Voters face so many important choices on their lengthy ballots that many lose interest and never make it to high-priority local measures.

Let's look at the past three presidential elections in El Paso County.

In 2008, we had 273,175 votes for president (John McCain vs. Barack Obama), but just 257,093 for U.S. House (Doug Lamborn vs. Hal Bidlack) and 245,000 or so for a countywide ballot issue.

The behavior was similar in 2004, with 241,836 county voters for the George W. Bush-John Kerry race, dropping to 214,000 for University of Colorado regents and 213,248 for the first version of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

And in 2000, the county produced 200,757 votes for president, but only about 170,000 for some low-end ballot questions.

The trend is clear: At least 10 percent of voters lose interest as they move down the ballot. That adds up to thousands of votes, which could affect outcomes.

The pick-and-choose trait concerns those pushing state and local questions. It concerns us as well, because these issues are precisely the ones most likely to have immediate visible effects on our everyday lives.

With mail ballots going out Oct. 15, we implore you to educate yourself and vote to the bottom of your ballot. If you're submitting a mail ballot, we also urge you to wait until at least Nov. 1, to ensure you're apprised of any late-breaking developments.

Below are our endorsements on questions and amendments; thoughts on contested races will follow next week.

State government

Amendment 64: "permitting a person twenty-one years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts marijuana," with state regulation, licensing for cultivation and product manufacturing facilities, and requiring the general assembly to enact an excise tax on sales with the first $40 million in revenue going to public-school capital construction.

This measure, of course, only OKs marijuana consumption if the federal government's not looking; national laws prohibiting such use will remain in effect. Regardless, it sends a clear message to Washington that the four-decades-long "War on Drugs" has been a total disaster. Governments waste untold billions on enforcement and incarceration, yet drug use continues and the black market thrives. And the toll on our citizens, especially those who cannot afford good legal counsel, has been heartbreaking.

We do not see this as a moral issue, a referendum on whether it's right or wrong to consume drugs (or alcohol, for that matter) for recreational or other purposes. And we believe many local voters feel the same: Go back to the 2000 state issue legalizing medical marijuana, and you'll see that our county, while heavily favoring George W. Bush over Al Gore for president, also backed MMJ, 51 to 49 percent.

We've heard the arguments that marijuana use can affect teens' brain development, but that's a problem regardless of this outcome. We support intensive educational programs to send that message to young people.

Colorado is viewed as a bellwether purple state. What we do matters. Let's send a clear message to Washington that enough is enough. Vote YES.

Amendment 65: asking for future changes to Colorado laws supporting a federal constitutional amendment to limit campaign contributions and spending

We have all watched the uncontrolled ad-buying by anonymous groups, spewing misinformation and lies to influence elections, since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling of January 2010. In our view, citizens regardless of affiliation share our anguish, and we must fight back.

The best recourse is passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. To start that process, Congress must vote to send a proposed amendment back to the states, that corporations are not people.

This measure is really a nonbinding "sense of the state" resolution, directing our national leaders to get off their butts and take the first step toward a constitutional amendment. Our votes in conservative El Paso County are especially critical, for if we support congressional action, it will send a much-needed powerful call for reform. Perhaps this can start a national movement. Vote YES.

Amendment S: various changes to the state personnel system, including more preference to veterans

If you read the entire measure, this is largely housekeeping that hasn't been done in 40 years, endorsed by leaders in both parties. Amid its revisions, it does provide for giving military veterans preference for state-funded positions.

We have much broader concerns about the need to help veterans, especially those who served in combat, but this is a start. Vote YES.

County government

1A, El Paso County: increasing sales tax by 0.23 of a cent on a dollar, producing an estimated $17 million a year for eight years to cover law enforcement, criminal justice and emergency response needs

We're troubled by this question. Sheriff Terry Maketa makes a strong case that his staff is spread too thin to provide acceptable protection and response times, react appropriately to emergencies, and provide proper jail security. But we're bothered by this proposal for several reasons.

First, Maketa waited until August to share his proposal. Despite the Waldo Canyon Fire, the sheriff should have unveiled this proposal to commissioners months, if not a year, earlier. That would have given the public and the media ample time to vet — and possibly improve — the measure.

Second, there are other pressing measures on this year's ballot, and "another" funding request may make it more difficult for them to pass. Third, this measure is reminiscent of prior efforts that have fallen short, and another failure would only make it tougher for even the next well-planned measure. Fourth, much of the personnel need is outside city limits, but most revenue will come from city residents.

We wish it had been handled differently — and it could have been, given that commissioners have heard, but not acted on, Maketa's requests in recent years. Perhaps that was the bigger mistake, and the reason why they're dumping this on voters now.

In the end, we come back to the bottom line: For the cost of 23 cents per $100 spent (and with the usual full exceptions for medications, groceries, etc.), we can begin addressing staffing shortages that affect public safety and put the county at risk of lawsuits. Meanwhile, Maketa says, El Paso County still will rank at the bottom of the state's 10 largest counties in spending per resident for the sheriff's office.

Elected officials need to know that this is not the way to handle ballot questions — and voters just may tell them so at the ballot box. But the need is real, and if we just ignore it, we're all negligent. Vote YES.

1B, El Paso County: reducing term limits from three four-year terms to two for county commissioners, clerk, surveyor, assessor and treasurer

In 2010, commissioners OK'd an intentionally confusing ballot measure that helped lead voters to approve three terms. Predictably, there was an outcry. But commissioners refused to revisit the issue in a 2011 election, citing Clerk Wayne Williams' cost estimates for doing so — which turned out to be significantly exaggerated.

Now it's back in 2012, but doesn't stop Commissioners Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey from pursuing third terms this year, even if voters approve returning to two terms.

We might have a different view if the initial proposal had been delayed until all current office-holders were gone. In fact, we are not against having a discussion about term limits again in the future. But it's vital that we approve this measure now. Then others could work on another proposal, but with clear language and provisions that it doesn't benefit those currently holding office. Vote YES.

City/town governments

Four measures come among the county's smaller municipalities. We support Fountain (2D) building a new fire station, Calhan (2A) paying for road and bridge maintenance, and Manitou Springs (2C) asking for no new revenue but using previously approved funding for parks throughout that city.

Another issue warrants more mention.

2B, Manitou Springs: joining Pikes Peak Library District

After years of discussion, Manitou's leaders and the Pikes Peak Library District jointly propose this merger. We know it has been a matter of pride and independence for Manitou to operate its own library, but this is a bargain, for access to PPLD with its vast collections, technology and cultural activities. The impact would be positive for Manitou's schools and residents of all ages. Vote YES.

Special districts

Three fire protection districts in the county are asking for tax increases, and we'll defer to residents on those.

5A, Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority: renewal for 2014-24

This proposal seeks no tax increase, continuing the same PPRTA sales tax portion (just 5.5 cents on every $10 in taxable purchases). The accomplishments of PPRTA I were huge, especially the Woodmen Road-Academy Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway-Union Boulevard interchanges. The projects now are equally vital, taking care of major needs to existing infrastructure, and improving roads and bridges that our governments no longer have the wherewithal to address.

We applaud the organizers for developing lists that cover the broad constituency, and for amassing support of elected officials, led by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach. That's how ballot issues succeed here. Vote YES.


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